Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Amsterdam Welcome

I left boston yesterday at 7pm and arrived at the schilpin??? Airport in the Netherlands at 8am this morning.  Traveling across time zones is so strange to me.  The flight was only 6 hrs, but now I am a day ahead and I feel like 6hrs of my life disappeared.  I much prefer traveling the opposite direction and feeling like I did so much in the little amount of time that passed to travel so far. How the heck did they come up with time zones anyways?

I purchased a ticket planning on heading to Amsterdam, but was confused and ended up going the opposite direction.  I immediately noticed that the first stop was not the name that the ticket woman told me and got off the train before I could get any more lost.  I asked a man for directions and he told me to follow him because he was heading the same way.

The train ride only lasted 5 minutes or so before I was back at the airport station stop, but had an interesting conversation with the man in the time being.  He was born in the Netherlands and was on his way to work.  He had never been to the United States and after I told him that I was in his country studying bicycle transportation he was more than confused.  I told him that APPARENTLY (because I am an architecture major and have little knowledge of basic bicycle statistics in the U.S.) his country was the world leader in daily trips made on a bicycle, which is extremely different than the current situation in the states. We both got off the train and he pointed in the direction of the platform where I could take the train to Amsterdam.

I soon arrived in the city and navigated several blocks to the hotel.  The weather was overcast and it looked like had been raining earlier in the morning.  Although the hotel that our class was staying at was directly off one of the major streets in the city center, I did not notice an abundance of traffic, bicycles or automobiles, on the streets at this time.  I found some of my classmates and we traveled to the Van Gough Museum to see some artwork.  Some of the permanent and traveling collection was very cool.  It also astonished me that there were no protection devices (e.g. barriers, sensors, or guards) to insure the safety of this historic artwork.  This idea or concept of trust was visible in many areas of Dutch culture, which is visible in many of my observations.

Because I had left from Boston at 7 in the evening and the flight only lasted 6hrs I barely got any sleep and I was really starting to feel disoriented at the museum.

We returned to the hotel to receive our Dutch bicycles that would be facilitating our travels for the entire week.  Because the weather was still gloomy and we had not ventured far from our hotel I still did not have a feeling for the sheer magnitude of the bicycle scene in Amsterdam…..this was about to change.  The first thing I noticed about our bicycles was that they all looked like traditional women’s bikes that you would find in the U.S. in the 1980s.  By this I mean that there was no top tube to step over, but merely an open space that allowed the rider to slide their leg through opening easily. Also, it was surprising to find that the bicycles were substantially heavier that even the cheapest bike you would find in the U.S. All the bicycle were equipped with an interesting permanent back wheel locking device and a front wheel chain that made the need find a solid object to attach the bicycle to unnecessary. Bicycle were parked anywhere.  This was also possible because most bicycles had kickstands. I also cannot forget that the rear wheel had a type of “skirt shield” that prevented women’s dresses from getting sucked into the rear wheel while traveling. With all of these small, but obviously different features found on these generic Dutch style bicycles I immediately realized how they encouraged a wider range of user groups than the generic and most basic bicycles found in the U.S.

Key Bicycle Features to attract diverse market group
1. Heavy bicycle
2. No top tube on frame
3. Skirt shield
4. Chain guard
5. Unique locking capability
6. Kickstand

Now it was time to make our first real trip by bicycle in Amsterdam.  Keep in mind that there are 14 of us and staying together is quite difficult.  With that said we started off for the restaurant single-file going against traffic on a one-way street.  Fortunately we did not encounter any cars, but I was a little unsure why our tour guide was leading us against automobile traffic.  Next, we merged out a lane dedicated to bicycles, maybe 1.5 – 2 meters wide, and continued to follow the person in front of us.  Before I knew it a small Vespa was roaring past me on the right, only a foot away, like everything was normal.  I was a little perplexed that motorized vehicles were allowed on the same path as bicycles.  There were a few times on this initial trip that the group go separated at an intersection and it was very stop-and-go when the group was approaching intersection, not understanding which bicycle was authorized to go first.  But, we finally made it to our destination with only a few looks of terror on people faces and everyone’s bike still intact.

After finishing up dinner several of us went to our bicycles, which were scattered throughout the plaza at any spot that was available, only to witness our first bicycle pedestrian crash!  The plaza was surrounded by a bicycle lane, which was then adjacent to a popular bar. Apparently, two men, who had totally drank their share of beer for the evening, were not looking as they crossed the cycle lane and a bicycle hit one of the men.  The bicycler went flying over his handle bars into the ground the pedestrian on foot crumpled to the ground holding his leg and muttering in a different language.  From the looks of it the man on the bicycle was fine, but something was wrong with the alignment of his wheel and the man on foot was trying to walk off the injury, but could barely put wait on his leg.  It did not look good and the thought of crashing into a pedestrian in the cycle lane was all that I could think of on the rest of the ride home.

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